Friday, April 29, 2016
Thursday, December 22, 2011
I got the feeling that his was a common story; that nobody since before the time of the water wheel had been able to make this paddle straight shot.
I got the feeling that his was a common story; that nobody since before the time of the water wheel had been able to make this paddle straight shot. In our quest for longer paddles in Southern New England however, we are not alone. In his book Uncommon Carriers, John McPhee devotes 8 pages or so to retracing the canoe voyage of Thoreau and his brother documented in Five Days on the Merrimack and Concord Rivers. Ninety percent philosophical tangent and ten percent narrative, the journey in Five Days started Aug 31st, 1839, and traversed 55 water miles from Concord MA to Hookset NH, three years before the Blackstone canal was closed, and twenty years after the Eerie canal was finished. It was a time of transition, the railroad was coming, as Thoreau occasionally lamented in Walden, but he could not have foreseen the age of the automobile. Thoreau didn’t begin writing Five Days until 1845, a possible explanation for his paucity of narrative, and we do know he took his time in traveling as well, as did McPhee, and enjoyed the river for what it was. Perhaps we should’ve followed their lead, but our desire to be responsible students wouldn’t allow it. We didn’t have the same leisure as Thoreau did, who took his water from the river and had completed his ‘education’ years before. Neither did we have portage support from a spouse in a Minivan as McPhee did, but what we lacked in time and logistical support, we made up in pure verve and enthusiasm.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Jan Gehl’s lecture at RIBA on Tuesday Night laid clear some of the persistent issues with the lunacy of cycling with London. While the city certainly has progressed on many fronts, there is a noticeable paucity if cycling infrastructure when compared to Copenhangen, Amsterdam or even Boulder, Colorado. Gehl’s main message, as I could see it, was that cities should be designed for people, by people. This refreshing burst of energy comes exactly at a time when the engines of economic progress and the clamor for more cars and suburbs have slowed for a variety of reasons; namely the collapse of the housing bubble, increasing awareness of climate change, and a growing impulse of people to refuse to submit to economic objectification and the vast iniquities becoming painfully obvious. Not that the numbers don’t shake out in Gehl’s model; his data collected on the use of regenerated and properly planned urban spaces show that pedestrian density is often representative of high rates of building occupancy, employment and property values. All of this is intuitive, fill space with people, and they will be productive,, fill a city with cars, and they will be congested, polluted with a sacrificial slaughter of the public realm to the god of parking.
While Gehl’s message is more holistic than addressing issues of sustainable transit, much of the discussion afterwards focused on the relative hazards of cycling in London. And understandably so, London’s skyrocketing rates of cycling use. Between the introduction of the congestion charging zone, Boris’s implementation of Ken Livingston’s ideas, growing concern over climate change, and the sheer painfulness of commuting by car in a notoriously congested city the explosion of cycling culture has been nothing short of phenomenal. However, it has become painfully obvious that the city has failed to deliver a city wide, well planned cycling infrastructure. Combined with the anachronistic and undemocratic system of pedestrian crossings, increased cycling has resulted in increased friction between cyclists, pedestrians and automobiles. In the best of times, cycling in the city is an adventure, and a survival contest that has spawned a militant hardcore cycling culture touting expensive and aerodynamic spandex kit. To remedy this situation, there were several concrete proposals that should be rolled out at once.
1) Give cycles a six second green light ahead of car traffic. This would avoid the mad scramble inherent in busy starts, with cyclists, scooters, motorbikes and cars all vying for position, reduce the amount of exhaust that cyclists have to churn through (potentially reducing overall emissions as the startline antics of car drivers will be ameliorated), making intersections safer, and reduce friction between cyclists and pedestrians; as has been shown in a wide array of commentary sections lately, many of those who do not cycle do not realize the advantage of cyclists in running red lights.
2) Carry cycle lanes through intersections, and sidewalks through side streets and driveways as has been done to some degree on Roman Road in the East End.
3) Computerize signaling for bike and pedestrian crossings to be more user friendly, displaying the time till crossing is closed and open.
4) Broaden cycle lanes and sidewalks, and protect cycle lanes with rows of parked cars rather than vice versa.
5) Make public transit more cycle friendly to facilitate long distance cycle commuting, this includes making dedicated bike racks on the underground, overground and national rail services, as well as busses. On my way home from Gehl’s lecture the chain broke on my cycle. I was under the impression that off peak one could take their cycle on the tube, or at least bits of it. At Regent Street station the woman working at the tube told me no way, though said at Baker Street I should be able to. I was rejected there as well, even though later looking up TFL’s policy, I was fully in the right; it was the attitude of TFL employees in both cases that was most frustrating, as they were openly antipathic to my cycle.
While the Danes point of view is openly antagonistic to automobiles in the city, it may be that there are ways to balance the convenience of pedestrian, bike, car and public transport for their respective purposes. Making the city more accessible to people at these different scales will form the basis of more sustainable and enjoyable places. Now if only we can get the river’s clean enough to boat and swim in.
TFL Cycling on Public Transport Policy
Saturday, March 12, 2011
The show homes highlight a focus on sustainability that is growing in England, never mind the rest of the world, as a response to climate change and the litany of environmental and social disorders caused by irresponsible growth. Yet the Prince's house stands out in its approach, one that could be called sustainability through simplicity, whereby good design at the home and neighborhood planning level can go a long way to make places more energy efficient, pleasant and lasting. The use of a high quality building envelope, natural and reclaimed materials and the integration into dense, mixed use, walkable, and well serviced neighborhoods, all contribute to the house's sustainability. A full list of features can be found on the Foundation Website. While sounding a bit soft in its approach, the informative displays behind the house highlight the Foundation's other projects throughout the UK and the world, make it clear that there is a growing technical rigor in our work, in providing location efficiency, measurable cost savings and real environmental, social and health benefits.
While the house is based upon the Foundation's earlier work at the Building Research Establishment site on the 'Natural House,' this particular house will be transported up to the Scottish Ideal Home show before finding a permanent home in one of the Foundation's ongoing projects.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
I hate to say it, but this top down approach may be highly effective, if only you can get the people you are bombing to cooperate. Given the U.S.'s track record in that arena, my hopes are not too high, but if only!
and a design institute that should be known by everybody in the sustainable housing field.
Efficiency through simplicity. As much as I admire technological innovation, the application of a few time tested principles, across the board, could go a long way to make the planet more habitable for all, and not necessarily breaking the bank either, check it on treehugger.